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How a growth mindset drives innovation

by Ana Lopez
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Kent Ingle is chairman of Southeastern Universityauthor of several leadership books and host of the Framework Leadership podcast.

There are often two types of leaders: those who continue to evolve (growth mindset) and those who are static (fixed mindset). These concepts stem from those of Dr. Carol Dweck research on human motivation. It presents two ideas: intelligence can be developed (growth) or left unchanged (fixed).

In my experience, to stay relevant, leaders must always adapt – in search of growth – to the ever-changing landscape they find themselves in. And a leader’s ability to apply lifelong learning drives innovation.

Once a year I hold a retreat with our executive team to review where we are and where we need to go. I call it a “New Curve Retreat” because we follow the Sigmoid function (S-shaped curve). We’ve learned that when we reach our most successful point, it’s time to start a new initiative. The key to innovation and staying ahead is not waiting for your organization to decline, but adapting when things are going extremely well.

Leaders who are development-oriented can take their organization to places they have never been before. Based on my experience in higher education, here are five steps a leader with a growth mindset can take to drive innovation.

1. See obstacles as opportunities.

Growth almost always guarantees challenges. You may reach a point where it feels difficult or impossible to keep moving forward, especially if it’s in unfamiliar territory. When you cultivate a growth mindset, you learn to face challenges. Instead of shrinking from opposition, you learn to engage, process and solve problems.

With this perspective, you recognize that failure is not only inevitable in the change process; it is integral to your success. As you try to grow, problems will arise – some foreseen and others impossible to predict. Focus on the journey rather than the results. And when you face a challenge, see it as an opportunity.

2. Prioritize collaboration.

Leadership should not be a solitary endeavor. You are probably surrounded by people you trust who can move the organization forward. Whenever I navigate new situations, I prioritize meetings with other leaders from different departments of our organization. I recognize that progress requires input from others.

This is according to a survey by Salesforce 86% of executives “identify ineffective collaboration and communication as a major cause of business failure.” You have a remarkable amount of talent in your organization. Activate it by allowing others to be part of the growing process. Apply the skills of listening and seeking feedback and adapt to the changes they recommend.

3. Develop a sense of curiosity.

Don’t fight change. Rather, learn how to take advantage of it. Working in higher education, I learned the value of staying on top of the latest trends and where the industry is going. We always strive to be at the forefront of change because we don’t want to become irrelevant.

When you develop a sense of curiosity, you embrace humility (recognize the need for continuous learning) and consistently look for ways to improve. It requires you to never settle for where you are, gain different perspectives by asking questions, and explore alternatives to achieve your goals.

4. Value relationships.

When I first began my tenure as higher education president, I remember walking across our campus and stopping to talk to a gardener. I asked him what he was doing. I expected him to say exactly what he did, preserving the campus landscape. Instead, he articulated our new mission statement. Then I recognized the value of relationships in the growth process.

Teams accept change as a catalyst for good rather than see it as a threat when they are aligned and united. You must continually build trust and prioritize. Focus on how you can help others develop, be part of the way forward, and understand their role in the mission.

5. Make a map to a target.

Before you can hit the ground running on a new initiative, you need to create a guide for the future. One of our goals in college was to quadruple enrollment (something we accomplished this year). But before embarking on this goal, we knew we needed a framework that would lead us where we wanted to go.

Developing a map can give you structure, a rationale, and a method to move your organization forward, even if the destination is unclear. It functions as a tool for you as you manage both the possibilities that change offers and the fear of the unknown that it evokes.

Breakthrough within an organization happens when leaders are willing to go through change. If you are not willing to embrace change, you will reap the same results as always. Learn to embrace a growth mindset by developing your leadership skills, seeking innovative solutions and stepping out of your comfort zone.

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